Meet the People Behind Long Island’s Best Food Porn

If you have Instagram, you’ve seen their photos. But can you trust their recommendations?

Meet the Long Island foodies who are translating their hobby of food photography into huge amounts of followers.

If you are active on social media and, well, eat food, chances are you’ve snapped a photo of a meal and posted it to your Instagram account, hoping to garner a few likes and make a few followers drool. Getting more than just a few likes on those same kind of pictures are food instagrammers, also known as influencers.

Meet the Long Island foodies who are translating their hobby of food photography into huge amounts of followers. Instagrammers Gabby Sizemore of Eating Long Island, Amanda Doherty of The Long Island Foodie and Haylee Pollack of Long Island Eats have a collective following of almost 100,000.

With the growth of social media and influencers (someone who has a large social media audience and an established credibility within an industry), many people, especially millennials, have closed the newspaper and opened up Instagram to find their restaurant recommendations. According to data collected by Zizzi, a U.K. based restaurant chain, millennials spend up to five days cumulatively a year looking at Instagram photos of food.

“Instagrammers are legit,” Luis Sanchez, a 21 year old Stony Brook University student, said. “They are usually 100 percent honest with you, unlike other reviews. I’m also always connected on social media [so] that it’s convenient to find food places.”

Doherty, who doesn’t consider herself a critic, still uses her judgement when posting certain foods and won’t post if the experience was negative.

“I want [my Instagram account] to be more of a positive experience,” she said. “In my mind, I’ll be a critic, but in the account, I won’t. If [the dish] is great, I’ll highlight the restaurant, but I will never trash a restaurant.”

Sizemore has a similar approach.

“If there’s something I don’t like, I just don’t post it. And I’ll always tell the restaurants what was wrong and really just try to better the experience I had,” she said.

And they certainly are able to communicate with a large audience; Sizemore’s account can reach up to 50,000 people per post, and Doherty has over 18,000 followers.

“I get messages almost everyday from people saying they’ve tried places that they’ve seen on my page,” Sizemore said.

Doherty echoed her, saying “I get a lot of feedback that people do go try [places] I posted.”

But not everyone is sold on the idea of people depending on Instagram influencers for restaurant recommendations.

“The difficulty with Instagramming is, to me, it’s marketing. A pretty picture and a nice description may not necessarily be what my experience was,” Peter Gianotti, a food critic for Newsday, said. “…They are carving their own niche there, it’s whether you look at it as credible or not.”

With such a large audience at their fingertips, food influencers are at the intersection of restaurant reviewer and potential advertiser for the industry, giving them the opportunity to turn their hobbies into a side hustle by collaborating with restaurants for posts.

“Some [restaurants] give me the meal for free and some I try and charge,” Sizemore said, who was able to evolve her Instagram account into a full time business as a social media agency, offering advertisements, content creation, and marketing. “If it’s like a promotional thing…like an event at a restaurant, then I usually try and charge because it’s more of an advertisement.”

But it’s still a difficult business to break into. Haylee Pollack, behind the account Long Island Eats with 33,000 followers, works full time at an agency as a social media manager, but has hopes of advancing her account.

“I definitely would like to start to expand [my account] into different avenues if I’m going to grow it into a business, but only time will tell,” she said.

Assistant Professor of Marketing at Stony Brook University Ethan Pew says the financial side of Instagram is still complicated. Businesses don’t know how much one post is worth in comparison with an advertisement in a magazine.

“We’re really more in this advertorial kind of space, which is complicated and expensive, both in time and figuring out how you’re gonna charge,” he said.

The attraction to business owners comes down to the the longevity, Pew said. Magazine ads are seen frequently over the course of issues, where an Instagram post may only be seen for a few seconds.

Sizemore said the idea of using food Instagrammers as advertisers has yet to move to Long Island.

“It’s kinda hard to make money off of [Instagram] because [Long Island businesses] don’t recognize that it’s advertising for their restaurant,” she said. “In general, my posts reach about 40,000 to 50,000 [users] per post. And that’s a lot of people. Even some magazines don’t reach that much.”

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